John Dies at the End by David Wong

On one hand, I want to say that this novel is a “comedy horror” but on the other hand, I worry that describing it as such would put people off, because things like the Scary Movie franchise have made comedy horror synonymous with poor quality (for some). On the other hand, this is a horror novel with a lot of comedy elements – it’s probably best not to worry about how to label it and instead think of it as a very good and unique novel.

And the extent to which it is unique cannot be overstated. It’s about two guys, one called David (Wong) and the other called John. Due to a horrible experience they once both shared, the two of them are conscious of the supernatural things in the world which most people cannot see. This means that they’re the ones who are called in whenever somebody has some kind of other-worldly experience. For example, early on they find themselves investigating a man made out of pieces of meat and yes, I know, all men are technically made out of pieces of meat, but I mean chopped up pieces of animal meat which have formed into the shape of a human – something which is both ridiculous and really quite horrifying if you think about it.

I think the fact that a lot of this novel is so ridiculous often leads you into a false sense of security. The threats in this novel are real and people do die – so while one page you’ll be having a laugh about something quite funny, the next you’ll be a little bit traumatised after somebody you kind of liked dies in a really horrible and violent.

But it’s certainly not just senseless violence and absurdist horror. A great deal of thought has gone into this book. There are three main characters: David, John and Amy and they’re all very well developed indeed. David is horribly cynical about the world (and understandably, given his life) and it’s from his perspective that the story is told. John, meanwhile, is a bit of an idiot, but a really loveable idiot and I sometimes wondered if he played the fool in order to put other people at ease (e.g. making jokes about the size of his penis when they’re in life and death situations) while Amy is, I suppose, the ‘normal person’ of the three, in that she felt most like the kind of person you might encounter in reality. All of them have very interesting lives and I was worried for the safety of them all – especially John, what with the book’s title!

The setting receives an equally high level of development. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because a lot of it is fun to discover yourself at you read – but the last section of the novel is absolutely crazy. Everything is tied together in a way that makes sense, but which is also terrifying, bizarre and off the walls insane. I loved it, because it was probably the weirdest thing I’d ever read. But not just weird in a ‘what a strange idea’ sort of way, but in the sort of way that actually gets you thinking about things in the real world.

I can fault it in only three real places: the first is that I felt like it was too long. Had it been 20-30% shorter, it may have flowed better. The second was that the plot was quite disjointed, as if it had been made up on as Wong went along – but in fairness, since it was originally serialised on the internet, it probably was made up as he went along. Finally, the ‘stupid man’ behaviour of David and John can become occasionally irritating – but thankfully, I didn’t feel that it was to the extent of spoiling the characters. I’d definitely recommend this to fans of the horror genre and especially for anyone hoping to read something wacky and unique (but not without a genuine heart and soul).

Rating: 8.2/10

Buy it here.

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